What is API first design?

what is api first designs

In this post we will discuss what API first technology design means and why connected cloud of devices cannot be ignored by businesses anymore.

Every business now-days has to export / expose valuable data publicly. The value of well productised APIs to the business organization is becoming significant on the balance sheets.

Smart Devices

Let's take a look at the history and why APIs became critical part of most technology platforms.

Apple released their version of smartphone called iPhone in 2007. Adoption skyrocketed. Digital interactions through smart apps skyrocketed. There was no turning back.

Small screen devices rapidly became part of daily routine to billions of people around the World. Various sensors and screenless devices followed the suite (Alexa, Google Home etc.)

We now call them the Internet of things.

Below graph shows the number of smartphones and IoT devices in comparison to standard desktop computers.

What one thing all these new devices have in common?

They all rely on data APIs to be present for most of their functionality.

growth of api consuming devices in last 10 years

What challenges did all this rapidly growing adoption brought to the businesses and their technology teams?


Let's take a look at the average digital business company before the smartphone revolution.

Their underlying technology looked similar to this.

ecommerce before smartphone api first

Before smart devices revolution, business technology stack was mainly in house. Only sharing generated HTML content / results with the user Internet browsers.

Large, monolithic technology architectures were working just fine. Business had full control of the data inside its data centre.

There was not much segmentation on the client side technology set.

Of course, some Internet browsers were behaving better than others. But There were 3 or 4 most popular Internet browsers available and that was all.

Frameworks like jQuery where managing cross browser look & feel for us.

What changes?

With smartphones rapidly gaining consumer adoption, the way digital companies interact with their customers has suddenly changed.

ecommerce after smartphone api first

In the new, smartphone powered world - mobile applications needed the data.

Generating and sending only HTML views was not enough anymore.

Mobile applications took the control over the customer journey because smartphones became such an integral part of customers everyday life.

Businesses had to make their data publicly accessible (even if secured, encrypted etc.) for their own smartphone applications.

Customer listings, checkout flows, payment flows, notifications and other functionality was now performed outside of business controlled datacenter. On the customers smartphone.

Suddenly, existing technology stack had to securely share much more than HTML representation markup - it had to share business data as well.

In the mean time, number of different smart device types grew fast. This fragmentation ment that main pattern of sharing data via APIs and allowing smart devices to manage user experience became the norm.

What about APIs?

The most convenient way to expose all this data to applications was via publicly facing APIs or Application Programming Interfaces.

REST APIs became de facto technology standard for sharing underlying platform data with external 3rd party apps.

what is an api

Enterprise technology stack has accumulated yet another layer - API Management.

What is API first technology design?

API first technology design comes from small screen first necessity.

Sometime around 2017, the number of consumers navigating online via smartphones has surpass the number of consumers using desktop computers.

Which means that most of business technology platforms will shift the focus on the small screen devices first.

Likewise, any business technology platform should be built with API first design mindset for business data sharing.

Otherwise it would be very challenging to fulfil customer demands to served via small-screen devices.

To sum up, API first design approach is aimed at building platforms which allow business to create products out of their data assests and to facilitate business integrations with partners.

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